Give Me a Break! Get Your Rest and Protect Yourself From Burnout

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” — John Lubbock, British scientist and politician.

Give Me a Break! Get Your Rest and Protect Yourself From Burnout by Laura Stack #productivity #rest #balanceBy nature, most of us in the business world feel driven to prove ourselves—by working hard, generating massive productivity, and moving up through the ranks. Before long, it becomes second nature to work long hours with a tight focus on work, often to the exclusion of other things in life. Some of us willingly sacrifice exercise, a decent diet, vacation, weekends, and even family time to get ahead.

But what are we getting ahead for? If you really care about your work, you’ll want to do what’s best and most productive for the organization. This means helping your team advance over the long haul, rather than burning out in an absurdly short period of time. Sure, a flashbulb may be super-bright…but a quiet 40-watt CFC lasts tens of thousands of times longer.

What I’m trying to say is: Give it a rest!

The Global Energy Crisis

Ask the average American worker how they feel at any particular point in time, and if they answer honestly, many will say, “Tired.” We work hard, don’t play hard enough, and don’t take very good care of ourselves. According to recent studies, the average American leaves about nine days worth of Paid Time Off (PTO) on the table at the end of each year, including three vacation days.

For starters, make sure you take your PTO—all of it—if you want to maintain your health, sanity, and productivity. It exists for a reason. Time spent completely away from work helps recharge your energy and brain function, leaving you better able to produce when you return. Some of the most successful people in the world recognize this fact and take it to heart. Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, takes weeklong vacations every four months. Richard Branson of the Virgin Group regularly takes “inspiration vacations” that expose him to people and circumstances he rarely encounters in his normal life.

According to Tony Schwartz of the Energy Project, 74% of all employees “are experiencing a personal energy crisis” that precludes them from doing their best on a daily basis. This exhaustion triggers poor work and disengagement from their jobs.

Slow Down to Speed Up

I’ve based my entire practice on teaching people to produce maximum results in minimum time®. It’s a trademark and our company tagline. But in addition to skills such as planning, prioritization, focus, and email management, I show them how even the small things, like taking breaks, can help them accomplish more while maintaining a reasonable work/life balance.

I’m not telling you to kick off your loafers and take a nap under your desk for the rest of the afternoon, but you do need small, regular breaks to help you keep your head in the game. According to studies by researchers at the University of Illinois, maintaining too tight a focus for too long eventually causes your focus to fade. Even if you’re paying close attention, your brain stops registering what you’re studying after a while. You then need a little time off to reset your focus. Humans apparently focus best for periods of 15-45 minutes at a time, though many researchers recommend working in 90-minute bursts before taking a brief break. I prefer 45-minute focus periods, followed by 15 minutes of “recovery,” email processing, quick calls, etc.

That said, if you don’t feel the need for a break, don’t take one unless hours have gone by. You might have to set a timer to make yourself take a break. You should take at least a couple quick breaks and your meal break during the course of the day. Most labor laws mandate these breaks for good reason. According to James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic, the best kinds of breaks are those that encourage physical movement. So the best break might involve taking a quick walk around the building or getting some sunshine.

Reeducating Yourself

Not taking breaks because you’re trying to impress your superiors with your diligence? I assure you, they won’t be impressed if your productivity drops because you can’t focus, you start making errors from too many hours at work, or if you drop because you’ve worked through too many weekends. When it comes to long-term productivity, a slow, steady burn is always preferable to a burnout. So take your breaks, take your days off, and especially take your vacations—by order of The Productivity Pro®.

Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution? Putting “Lead” Back into Leadership

Are You Part of the Problem, or Part of the Solution? Putting "Lead" Back into Leadership by Laura Stack #leadership #productivityMany people split the world into dualities: You’re either this or that. Positive or negative. On or off. Black or white. But in reality, human behavior occurs mostly in the shades of gray between any two extremes. So when it comes to leadership, I hate to say, “You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.” But it’s easy to see how it could be true.

“Lead” means “go first.” So followers look to a leader for examples of how to behave and what to do. According to research by anthropologist Lionel Tiger, most baboons look at their leader every 20 seconds to see what they’re doing. My Australian Shepard Lily follows me around the house and even while seemingly dozing, keeps an eye on me for cues of what to do. When we go for a walk, she continually looks at me for signals. Humans aren’t much different. Your team members look to you to model their behavior…and like it or not, they’ll follow your lead, whatever you do.

If you wander in at 9:00 every morning, don’t expect they’re going to rush out the door to arrive by 8:00. If you thrive on regular 60-hour workweeks, your team members may wear themselves out trying to keep up with you, even if you don’t expect it. You don’t want them to slack off, and you don’t want them to drive themselves into burnout, but your behavior will serve as their role model one way or the other. Your attitude is contagious, too. If you’re grumpy, you’ll transmit that. If you’re enthusiastic, they’ll notice that too. So choose the one you want others to exhibit. Promote a solutions-only atmosphere to end useless complaining. Encourage new ideas. Make optimism your default state.

You’ve heard the saying “monkey see, monkey do.” What can you do differently, and how can you act differently to yield greater team productivity? How do your team members react to your work habits and moods? What purposeful changes have you made in the past that have directly influenced your team for the better?

Six Quick Mediation Tips To Help Others Work Through a Conflict

“An ounce of mediation is worth a pound of arbitration and a ton of litigation.” — Joseph Grynbaum, American mediator.

Six Quick Mediation Tips To Help Others Work Through a Conflict by Laura StackIn any group greater than two people, you’ll inevitably have conflict. (Even two people may prove one too many on some issues.) So it should come as no surprise that your team members will occasionally rub each other the wrong way, resulting in conflicts that come to you for resolution.

In most cases, you can all sit down and reach a reasonable agreement after a little give-and-take discussion—assuming everyone wants to work it out. Or, if the disagreement seems petty, you can just make a quick decision and tell everyone to get back to work. But some conflicts are too deep-rooted or antagonistic to dismiss so easily.

In those situations, you’ll need a set of mediation tools you can quickly pick up and put to work on the issue. They don’t work for every situation, but I find the following tips help me clear up most conflicts between others, in business and in life:

1. Research the issue. Don’t go into the situation blindly. Know the basic situation and have some idea of how you can clear the roadblock, based on how others have handled similar situations inside and outside your organization. If you don’t have much mediation experience, brush up on the basics before you get started. Consult a more experienced colleague or an expert if necessary.

2. Meet with the conflicting parties separately. Interestingly, some mediation experts say never to do this, because they claim it generates mistrust. Others insist it’s necessary to get each person’s side of the story, which I tend to agree with. But if this step makes you uncomfortable, or you feel it will make the situation worse, you can skip it.

3. Meet with the conflicting parties together. One at a time, ask each person or party to present their side of the issue, assuring them they can do so uninterrupted. Enforce that promise, even if one of the others tries to break in. Once everyone has presented their cases, summarize the situation as you understand it. Ask what each person specifically wants from the other(s) to resolve the conflict.

4. Investigate the reliability of the parties involved. Double-check the information you’ve received. Research the incidents mentioned by the parties, probe their allegations, and if necessary, ask other co-workers or involved parties privately about the incident. Consider the reputations of each person involved, taking their previous actions and conflicts into account. All this may give you a handle on the situation that will let you resolve it more quickly. For example, professional mediator Jeffrey Krivis once short-circuited a potentially explosive sexual harassment case when he found convincing evidence that the relationship was actually consensual.

5. Consider what you’ve learned. Think deeply and thoroughly about what your investigations and interviews with the conflicting parties have revealed. Don’t take too long, but do give yourself long enough for the information to percolate through your subconscious. You might find a way to render a decision at that point.

6. Forge an agreement. If you can hammer out a solution at this point, great. If not, at least try to get the parties to agree to further negotiation so you can put the situation behind you as cleanly and as quickly as possible. Repeat as necessary.

Calling for Backup

You can handle relatively minor situations quickly and fairly with the process I’ve described here, especially when dealing with issues that boil down to personality clashes or spats over resources. If it doesn’t quickly produce results, however, don’t hesitate to call in a mediation expert, which will be less expensive in the end, since you can’t umpire disputes full-time.

Regardless of how you decide to handle an intervention, act immediately. Never let the problem fester. If you do, it may affect your entire team, dragging others in and forcing them to take sides. The longer you wait, the more work it will take to fix the problem. So when co-worker friction stars putting off smoke, step in and deal with it right away—before it ignites a fire you can’t handle.